Will Ovechkin ever slow down? (and other questions for the new NHL season)

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The NHL season opens tonight (again) (sort of).

Confused? You’re not alone. Technically, the 2022-23 season began Friday, when the Nashville Predators earned their first of two wins over the San Jose Sharks in Prague. Tonight, the NHL returns to North America, but with just two games: an all-U.S. doubleheader featuring Tampa Bay vs. the New York Rangers and Vegas vs. Los Angeles. Tomorrow might be considered the “real” opening night, with Colorado raising its Stanley Cup banner before taking on Chicago and the first four Canadian teams hitting the ice as Toronto visits Montreal and Vancouver travels to Edmonton.

Given tonight’s all-American slate, and the fact that we previewed all seven Canadian clubs in Friday’s newsletter, here are some key questions involving the NHL’s U.S.-based teams for this season:

Can the Avalanche repeat? With 2022 Conn Smythe and Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar already locked up long-term and superstar forward Nathan MacKinnon now signed to one of the biggest contracts in NHL history, the Avs have laid the foundation for a potential dynasty. But the defending champs lost key forwards Nazem Kadri and André Burakovsky in free agency, while captain Gabriel Landeskog is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury. There’s also a big question mark in net, where the Avs hope former Rangers backup Alexandar Georgiev can fill the hole left when Darcy Kuemper signed with Washington.

Is the Lightning dynasty* coming to an end? It’s debatable whether this team is worthy of that distinction, but Tampa Bay became the first club in 37 years to reach three straight Cup finals and fell just two wins short of a three-peat when Colorado beat them in six. That’s a remarkable achievement in the salary-cap era. It’s also a lot of hockey. The Lightning core of Steven Stamkos (32 years old), Victor Hedman (31), Nikita Kucherov (29) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (28) may have to dig deep for another long playoff run.

Will Alex Ovechkin ever slow down? Despite turning 37 last month, the relentless Russian is showing no signs of decline. He reached the 50-goal plateau for the ninth time last season, tying Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record. Now Ovechkin has some even bigger milestones in his sights. He needs just 20 more goals to reach 800 for his career, and 21 to match Gordie Howe for the second-most of all time. Gretzky’s once untouchable-seeming record of 894 is within reach too. If Ovechkin can maintain his career average of 46 goals, he’ll catch the Great One midway through the 2024-25 season.

Are the Coyotes… kind of cool? The NHL’s most moribund franchise finished second-last overall in 2021-22 and nearly got kicked out of its arena for unpaid taxes. There’s little hope for this season either, as many are projecting Arizona to finish dead last. And yet, the Coyotes have stumbled their way into some caché with their bizarre decision to move in with a college team. This may sound like the pitch for a Will Ferrell movie, but the Coyotes have agreed to play at least the next three seasons at 5,000-seat Mullett Arena (actual name) on the Arizona State University campus. The building’s capacity is three times smaller than any other in the NHL, and yet the Coyotes claim they’ve boosted their season-ticket revenue by 50 per cent thanks to their ability to charge higher prices in the more intimate venue, which they expect to sell out for every game. The on-ice product might be worse than ever, but even that has a silver lining: a last-place finish would give Arizona the best shot at landing generational prospect Connor Bedard in the draft.

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